The Falcon 9 first stage after touchdown on a June mission to launch 10 Iridium Subsequent satellites. The identical first stage will likely be used on the Dec. 22 launch of 10 extra Iridium satellites, however is not going to try a touchdown. Credit score: SpaceX
BROOMFIELD, Colo. — In a break from its now-standard follow, SpaceX is not going to try a touchdown of the primary stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on its subsequent launch this week, the corporate confirmed Dec. 19.
A SpaceX spokesperson mentioned that the corporate just isn’t planning to land the primary stage of the Falcon 9 that’s launching a fourth set of 10 Iridium Subsequent satellites Dec. 22 from Vandenberg Air Drive Base in California. The corporate carried a profitable static hearth check of the booster on the pad Dec. 17.
SpaceX provided few particulars concerning the determination to not land the booster. “These are case-by-case selections and are primarily based on mission necessities and the wants of our manifest,” an organization spokesperson mentioned in response to a SpaceNews inquiry.
Previous to the corporate’s assertion, there have been reviews on dialogue boards that the Falcon 9 appeared to lack the touchdown legs and grid fins required for a touchdown. Matt Desch, chief govt of Iridium, confirmed that was a case in a variety of tweets asking about it.
“That seems to be true,” he mentioned in response to at least one tweet asking if the primary stage wouldn’t make a touchdown. “I perceive that it gained’t be recovered,” he mentioned in one other.
Desch appeared to rule out necessities particular to the mission that forestall the primary stage from touchdown. The launch doesn’t require any “dogleg” maneuvers, he mentioned, and there aren’t any particular maneuvers deliberate to put satellites in numerous orbital planes.
The three earlier Falcon 9 launches of Iridium satellites all included first stage landings on SpaceX’s “drone ship” touchdown pad within the Pacific Ocean. The primary stage for the upcoming launch is a reused stage that first flew on a June launch that positioned the second set of 10 Iridium satellites into orbit.
This has led to hypothesis that SpaceX is not eager about touchdown older variations of the Falcon 9. This stage is of the “Block three” variant of the rocket that, together with the Block four, is finishing up Falcon 9 missions in the present day. The corporate expects to introduce a Block 5 model early subsequent 12 months that may incorporate classes from the sooner variations to allow larger reuse.
Nonetheless, SpaceX has landed the 4 reused boosters it has beforehand flown, together with the Dec. 15 launch of a Dragon cargo spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida. None of these 4 phases have been launched once more, however an organization official mentioned previous to that launch that the older first phases are usually not essentially restricted to a single reflight.
“Every thing has a service lifetime,” Jessica Jensen, Dragon mission supervisor at SpaceX, mentioned at a Dec. 11 briefing about that mission. “Dragons and Falcons, relying on the place they’re and what the service lifetime is for that particular unit, can fly greater than twice. We do have plans to fly greater than twice sooner or later.”
The upcoming Block 5, although, is meant to be flown 10 or extra instances. “We’re certifying for at the least 10 flights, and hoping for lots extra,” Jensen mentioned at a Dec. 15 post-launch briefing.
SpaceX has within the latest previous not tried landings solely due to efficiency necessities. Three Falcon 9 launches in 2017 — of the EchoStar 23, Inmarsat-5 F4 and Intelsat 35e geostationary communications satellites — didn’t try first stage landings so as to maximize efficiency for these giant satellites. The opposite 14 launches this 12 months to this point all made landings on drone ships or the corporate’s touchdown pad at Cape Canaveral.